The complete private tour of Romania from Bucharest covering Transylvania, Maramures and Bucovina. Explore beautiful Romania in a small group tour. See Transylvania castles and medieval towns, Bucovina painted monasteries or Maramures wooden churches.
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Cluj-Napoca – the most cosmopolitan Transylvanian city
The unofficial capital of Transylvania, Cluj-Napoca is a bustling university city, offering a wide list of cultural activities, great atmosphere and rich historical heritage. The largest city in Transylvania, with more than 320.000 people, Cluj has developed at a fast pace in the lasts 10 years, competing and sometimes outperforming Bucharest, the capital of Romania.
Geographically, Cluj-Napoca is located in the northern part of Transylvania, at the intersection at main commercial roads, which is also explaining its expansion since antiquity, when it was a small Roman town, until nowadays, to the vibrant cosmopolitan city. Also, its position is making Cluj a good starting point for tours in Maramures or Bucovina, Transylvania neighbouring regions.
The most important attraction is definitively the historical district. Cluj-Napoca has a long and fascinating history behind. One of the most important Roman cities in Dacia, Cluj-Napoca continued to play an important role in Transylvania in medieval times. It benefited from the influx of Saxon settlers, but also from the privileges the city received from the Hungarian kings. Inhabited mainly by Saxons and Hungarians in Middle Ages, Cluj-Napoca maintained its multiethnic character: nowadays the majority of the population is Romanian, but the city is the home of one of the biggest Hungarian urban communities in Transylvania.
Piața Unirii (Romanian for Union Square) is the largest of Cluj-Napoca. The historical district of the city radiates out from this square. The square is overlooked by the St. Michael’s Church, having the highest church tower in Romania (80m), and being the second-largest Gothic-style church in Romania. The construction took over 150 years, from the 14th till 15th century, in two phases. In front of the church, there is another landmark of the city, the statue of Mathias Corvinus. One of the greatest Hungarian kings, he was born in Cluj Napoca in a house that still exists, just a few minutes walk from the square.
The usual meeting point of locals and tourists alike, the Union Square is surrounded by elegant historical buildings from 18th and 19th century, housing at the ground floor cosy cafes or restaurants.
On one of the sides of the Unirii Square lies the Bánffy Palace. The building, which right now is the Arts Museum, is considered the most representative for the baroque style of Transylvania.
Built in the 18th century, the Banffy Palace was honoured with the presence of famous guests. One of them is Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, who stopped twice at Banffy palace in 1852 and 1887, accompanied by his wife Sisi.
Since 1951, the palace has housed the National Museum of Art, which includes works of arts of many important Romanian and Hungarian artists, alongside with paintings of renowned Europan painters.
The Museum Square, known in Middle Ages as the Small Square, is the first square that has formed in Cluj-Napoca. The Museum Square and its adjacent streets are made up of buildings with gothic and baroque architecture, as well as Roman archaeological sites and it represents the main pedestrian area of the city. During a walk on the cobbled streets, one can admire the architectural landmarks of the area: the History Museum (hence the current name of the market), the Franciscan Church, the Carolina Obelisk, the Mikes Palace or the Mattias Corvin House.
Museum Square is also a good exponent of the bohemian atmosphere in Cluj-Napoca, filled with pubs, cafes, chic restaurants or pastry stalls, artisan and souvenir shops.
Walking down from Unirii Square, on Heroes Bld, one will find Avram Iancu square, another landmark of the city. The wide-open space is dominated by two structures: the tall Orthodox Cathedral opened in 1933, built in the Neo-Brancovenian style and the elegant Opera house, built in an eclectic style in 1906.
Cetatuia (in Romanian citadel) Hill is an observation point located just a few minutes walk from the old town of Cluj-Napoca. It is called this way because on that hill the Austrian administration built a military fortress in the 18th century for better control of the city. The fortress is not there anymore, but the hill offers an unmatchable view of the largest city in Transylvania. The hill’s park-like environment attracts locals and tourists as well, and a plethora of cafes offer a well-deserved food or drink break.
Positioned in the southern part of the city, the botanical garden in Cluj-Napoca is spread over an area of almost 14 hectares. Founded in 1920, the garden exhibits more 10 000 plant species from all over the world. The Romanian flora and vegetation are represented trough the plants from the whole Transylvania. While visiting the garden, don’t miss the Japanese Garden and the Roman Garden, with archaeological vestiges from the ancient Roman settlement of Napoca. In addition to its role as a tourist destination, the garden also serves as a teaching and research centre for the Babeș-Bolyai University.
Cluj-Napoca is an excellent destination for city-break. A tourist can find a lot of things to do and to see in the city for a couple of days. But there are also a lot of things to see outside of the town.
One of the most popular tours from Cluj-Napoca is to Turda Salt Mine, just an hour from the city. Salt extraction halted a long time ago, and the former mine was given a very different role: a touristic attraction. Tourists are going there either for its SPA services (the salty air is highly beneficial to heal the respiratory system) but also to explore the huge cave dug for centuries in the salt massif. Is not a mine with a labyrinth of galleries. It’a collection of huge bell shape cavities hidden deep underground. There are a lot of activities to be done there, from mini-golf, table tennis, Ferris wheel and tourists can even rowboat on the small lake on the bottom of the mine.
Not far from Turda, there is a charming village located at the foothills of the Apuseni mountains. Rametea it’s a Szeklers village, which preserved its traditional architecture, and the beautiful white houses with green window frames are waiting in line for tourists to admire them. For hiking lovers, the mountain fencing the village Rametea offers a good opportunity to burn some calories in nature.
Rametea village seen from the mountain nearby
For a full-day tour from Cluj-Napoca, tourists can add to their itinerary a visit to Turda Gorges, a natural reservation located just between Turda and Rametea. The precipitous canyon is almost 3 km long, with 300 meters high vertical walls carved in limestone. Walking the gorge’s entire length takes around 1½ hours each way.
There a few options. The easiest way is to fly directly to Cluj-Napoca. The international airport has good connections with a large number of destinations in Europe, and if you don’t have a direct flight from your town, you can reach Cluj-Napoca using those connecting airports.
The train can be used as well, Budapest being the closest big capital that can be reached using this way, at a good price.
As the historical district is the most attractive part of the city for tourists, choosing accommodation in the area sounds like a good idea. The offer is generous and varied: from homey airbnbs at reasonable prices to luxury 5 stars hotels. Finding a place to park in Cluj-Napoca is not an easy task, and the parking place usually comes with a cost, so, when you look for hotels, choose the ones offering free parking. If you don’t mind using public transportation or walking a little bit longer, accommodation facilities which aren’t very central are usually offering better deals.
Another element to consider while planning a trip in Cluj-Napoca is the cultural and festivals agenda. Trying to find a room in Cluj-Napoca, for example, during the biggest music festival in Romania – UNTOLD, can be an almost impossible task.
Cluj-Napoca has been developing for several years as a gastronomic destination, as an effect of a more sophisticated clientele looking for new culinary experiences. The culinary offer of Cluj-Napoca is generous: a gourmand traveller should find easy something to please its taste buds: from sophisticated restaurants, with a fine dining cuisine, to cosy gastro-pubs or traditional restaurants.
Modern vision and consistency could best define Baracca, already a landmark in the fine dining scene of the city. The menu, which is reflecting the chef creativity, is using a surprising number of local ingredients for a fine-dining restaurant. The Mangalica pig with plums and cabbage is one of the chef favourites dishes one should try if passing the restaurant’s door.
Rod restaurant proposes an original approach of the traditional Romanian cuisine, adapted to a variety of tastes, through a menu that focuses on local products. One traditional dish, which can be found normally on the Christmas table, but rarely found in restaurants is pig trotters. If you are looking for it, you will find it ar Rod, among other Transylvanian cuisine treats.
In terms of traditional cuisine, Cluj county is not much different from the rest of Transylvania. The same simple, hearty and delicious food.
Despite this, the city has a dish that can be especially related to it than other parts of the region: “cabbage a la Cluj”. Some say that the origin of the dish can be traced back somewhere in Szeklers land, but you know, when we talk about a delicious dish, for most of the times, its origin is unclear. Cabbage a la Cluj, or cabbage mousaka or cabbage in layers is a delicious dish made of shredded pickled cabbage (as you may have guessed already) layered with minced meat mixed with rice and different vegetables. Spices (dill, bay leaf, thyme, paprika), bacon, sour cream are giving a special flavour to the dish. In Cluj-Napoca, one can find “Cabbage a la Cluj” at Roata or Zama restaurants.
Cabbage a la Cluj – photo source sodelicious.ro
Another food that can be related to Cluj is the “Nasal” cheese, made in a small village near Cluj. Nasal cheese is a unique speciality due to its distinct taste, similar to Camembert and to the maturing process happening in a natural cave. An essential factor in the whole process is a bacterium which naturally exists in the cave and which is giving the cheese its unique flavour.
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